Film Review:- Murder on a Sunday Morning

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Dir:- Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

Feat:- Brenton Butler, Patrick McGuinness, Ann Finnell, Duane Darnell, Michael Glover, Jim Williams, James Stephens

Following in the footsteps of documentary movies like The Thin Blue Line or the Paradise Lost trilogy, the Academy Award winning Murder on a Sunday Morning examines failures in the American justice system, that have ultimately led to a young black male being prosecuted for a crime he hasn’t committed. On the morning of the 7th of May 2000, a retired couple, Mary Ann & James Stephens, were approached by a young black male in the parking lot of a Ramada Inn in Jacksonville, Florida. The husband and wife from Toccoa, Georgia were on vacation and had just been returning from breakfast when they were intercepted by the stranger who proceeded to point a gun at them and demand that Mrs Stephens hand over her purse. Moments later Mrs Stephens was dead from a shot to the face, her husband was in shock, but otherwise unharmed, and their assailant had scarpered with both the murder weapon and Mrs Stephens purse.

As all of this was taking place fifteen-year-old Brenton Butler was getting ready to go and apply for a job at his local Blockbuster Video outlet. Instead of applying for the job he ended up in the back of a Jacksonville PD squad car, whereby he was taken to the scene of the crime and hastily identified, by the sole eyewitness to the murder, as the shooter. Taken to the police station Butler was held for twelve hours by officers who seemed utterly convinced of his guilt, yet had no solid evidence to pin Butler to the crime. It is at this point that the case goes from being a routine murder/armed robbery investigation to a glaring miscarriage of justice. What transpires in the twelve hours that Butler is held in police custody is in effect the subject matter of Murder on a Sunday Morning.

Director-Producer team Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Denis Poncet had developed a production company called Maha Productions that specialised in making documentary films that examined aspects of international judicial systems. Immediately prior to their work on Murder on a Sunday Morning, they had been examining the legal campaign for international recognition of the atrocities carried out in Rwanda during the 1990’s in a television documentary entitled The Justice of Men. The two men happened to be in Florida in May of 2000 with a film crew, as they were carrying out preliminary research for a documentary film focused on the American justice system. Until the Butler case it seemed as if the project had no clear identity, with de Lestrade and Poncet trying to insinuate themselves into various law firms to get access to trials, but not really having the narrative hook around which they could structure a film or television series. On meeting the public defender, and effectively the star of Murder on a Sunday Morning, Patrick McGuinness, de Lestrade and Poncet were introduced to an eerily vacant and expressionless young man, that would turn out to be Brenton Butler. Ultimately, it was this inscrutable image that the young Butler presented to the filmmakers that got them engaged in his case, with both de Lestrade and Poncet unable to excise the boy’s face from their minds.

Throughout the film Butler is almost a silent cipher, both inscrutable and emblematic of the way in which black voices are still routinely silenced in American society.

What follows from this initial kernel of curiosity and interest is one of the more unusual examinations of legal process that has been committed to celluloid. Effectively given unlimited and unprecedented levels of access to the trial, through the defence attorneys McGuinness and Finnell, de Lestrade and Poncet were able to catalogue the construction of a case, that would go on to prove the innocence of Butler and indict the Jacksonville Police Department for a grievous miscarriage of justice.

Central to the power of the film is the relationship that is established early on between the viewer and the principle defender, Patrick McGuinness. This chain-smoking, hyper-focused, eloquent and fearsomely righteous individual is pretty much the first figure the viewer is introduced to in the film, as well as the figure who has the last word. It is McGuinness’ skepticism that propels the initial investigations into the negligible evidence that the officers have amassed. Also, it is McGuinness who first comes to express doubt about the veracity of the eyewitness identification. Unlike in Morris’s The Thin Blue Line whereby the director of the documentary is carrying out an investigation into the facts of a case that has been tried a long time prior to the completion of the film, de Lestrade and Poncet were not actively carrying out an investigation, but rather observing the inquiries of McGuinness and Finnell. This is an important distinction because in Morris’s movie the film becomes structured specifically around Morris’s understanding of the facts of the case, as he discovers them, with Morris effectively adopting the McGuinness role and using his camera to point up the hypocrisy of the principle figures involved in convicting an innocent man. In Murder on a Sunday Morning there is less of a sense of the film as a construction and statement of the truth, but rather as a literal document of the trial and legal process around Butler’s case. This makes Murder on a Sunday Morning seem a far more transparent film than it actually is. It is very easy when faced with the slow unfurling drama of McGuinness’ probing and pushing into the shoddy police work around the case, to forget that in effect there is only really one side of the case that these filmmakers have full access to. Thus no matter how panoptic it may appear the documentary has a very obvious bias, which shouldn’t diminish its message any, but that makes it impossible to tell both sides of the story.

This is a fundamental problem with all documentary film, however. More than with any other genre of cinema, documentary asks the viewer to invest in the truth of a cinematic depiction, whilst frequently manipulating an audience into certain ways of thinking about a topic. Every documentary film has an angle upon the ‘truth’ of what is being depicted, but few documentaries reveal this angle in its entirety, instead allowing the editing process to reconstruct moments of reality in such a way as to tell the narrative that the filmmakers wish the viewer to concentrate upon. Even the most ‘objective’ processes of documentary film (such as the non-edited film of an event or occurrence) are ultimately a construct of the director. De Lestrade and Poncet try to approach the material in a linear/chronological fashion. They take the news footage of the incident as a starting point and then introduce McGuinness and Finnell into the mix and show how they have doubts upon the events of the day. They then go through the stages of the trial, with moments where the film goes off at a tangent, or digresses to focus attention upon a pertinent detail that may have hitherto been overlooked. The viewer is invited into the Butler family home, the local church and the community to which the Butler’s belong, but the viewer’s involvement isn’t filtered through the direct awareness of the filmmakers role, or the camera’s presence, but rather through the displaced identification with McGuinness, the person to whom the Butler’s have pinned their hopes. What the film subtly establishes is a sympathy and empathy for Butler and his situation, based almost entirely upon the growing convictions of the prosecutor and the bonds established between family, prosecutor and filmmaker. It makes for a wholly compromised documentary, but, perhaps, a far more satisfying and involving film.

There are at least three significant elisions within the film, one of which is an aesthetic choice on the part of the filmmakers, the other two being more likely forced upon the filmmakers as a result of their investment in the Butler side of the affair. The aesthetic choice, which is also one of the defining characteristics of the movie as a whole, is in filming Brenton Butler almost entirely without hearing him speak. This seems to stem from de Lestrade and Poncet’s initial impression of Butler as a completely detached and self-contained individual. It also serves as a wonderfully sharp metaphor, seeming to demonstrate how Butler’s voice has been silenced, or denied him by the injustice of the Florida legal system. Also, it points up the problems of presentation that the defence attorneys have to face, with Finnell diplomatically describing Butler as a male teenager, with all the sullen uncommunicativeness that may suggest. Of the two omissions that were clearly foisted upon the filmmakers, the most awkward one is the lack of access to the victim’s family and in particular her husband. The film has to rely on the testimony of James Stephens and his cross-examination by McGuinness, to give an impression of this central facet of the story. This negation of the victim’s narrative, allows the filmmakers to focus upon the other ‘victim’ of the film, namely Butler himself. It also allows the filmmakers to opt for a detailing of the trial process from the point-of-view of the defence, showing not only the trial, but how a good defence attorney would probe and shape the evidence to get at the hidden ‘truth’ of the matter. This is an important formal decision as it allows the film to be authoritative despite the fact it is clearly one-sided. It seems as if the film stands as a direct riposte to the lies of the police investigation and a rebalancing of the justice system in the way it works its own biases so thoroughly into the fabric of the narrative. In this manner it is really no loss that we fail to get access to the police side of the story.

NABBED: Can you tell me which of these words are Butler’s and which of these words are your own.

The film is at its most entertaining and horrifying in the sections during which Jim Williams, Michael Glover and, the particularly odious, Duane Darnell are caught in McGuinness’ crosshair. McGuinness is a perfect cinematic subject, with a showman’s appreciation of the camera. Prior to each of the cross-examinations, he gives a little insight into his strategies for breaking down the individual testimonies of all the police officers involved. Often these are hilariously candid little bon mots, such as when before dealing with the arrogant and sleazy Officer Darnell, McGuinness tells the camera that in response to a gibe from Darnell about his smoking, he told the officer he always likes to have a cigarette before sex. McGuinness comes prepared, knowing full well that the officers in question have already displayed a pronounced track record for laziness, sloppiness and cutting corners. Having the ammunition of his knowledge of their incompetence, he routinely embarrasses the officers during his cross-examination of them, forcing them into a corner where they either have to renounce their flawed narrative and look like a liar, or affirm their narrative knowing full well how preposterous it now looks. McGuinness compares this process to the stern disciplining of a puppy that doesn’t know where to do it’s business yet.

Amongst the many irregularities in the Butler case there is the unquestionable fact that the police jumped on the first suitable black suspect they came across, with no evidence to link him to the crime other than the colour of his skin. Disturbingly there is proof of violence being used to force a confession from Butler, with the very fact that a large, intimidating police officer like Michael Glover, regardless of his ethnicity, admittedly took Butler into a secluded area of wood on his own, supposedly to find the murder weapon, becoming a damning indictment of their investigation, in and of itself. The neglect of responsibility for the case demonstrated by lead officer Jim Williams is gobsmackingly ignorant, with Williams effectively confessing to the fact that nobody monitored Darnell or Glover whilst they were in the interrogation room with Butler. It’s this final detail that points up the significant legacy of the Butler case, as shortly after his acquittal new regulations were drawn up to make it a requirement that all police interviews were to be filmed, as standard procedure. In the film’s hastily constructed post-script further information comes out regarding the case, which shows that McGuinness’s office actually provide the police with the relevant information to catch the real killers, Juan Curtis and Jermel Williams. Intriguingly the story that is told about the shooting reveals that James Stephens eyewitness testimony was somewhat more than suspect, as his wife apparently was able to fire her cup of coffee into the face of the shooter Juan Curtis, which may go some of the way to explaining the bizarre circumstances of the shooting. In the aftermath of the case the Butler family settled a claim against the Jacksonville PD out of court, for approximately $775,000, whilst all three police officers involved in the case were either demoted, or left the force. Undoubtedly the lasting impact of this quiet, isolated young man’s struggle with a distorted justice system, is in the increased procedural requirements that all US police forces have to fulfill before bringing a case to trial.

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Film Review:- The Safety of Objects (2001)

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Dir:- Rose Troche

Starr:- Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Olyphant, Joshua Jackson, Kristen Stewart, Mary Kay Place

AM Homes is one of the most daring, innovative and skilled contemporary American writers. Her 1990 short story collection The Safety of Objects featured a uniquely surreal, sensuous and serene take on the suburban American experience, that ostensibly dealt with the different degrees of disconnection people need to feel to make their way through a ‘normal’ life. Remarkably it pinpointed ‘ownership’ as the seemingly insurmountable obstacle in many of the character’s lives. Attachment to things, the desire to possess and own, the obsessive need to have, these are the superficial drivers of most of the characters featured within the ten stories. Yet the things that they fixate upon are invariably the things which stunt their inner lives, haunt their waking moments, or prove stubbornly elusive. From a guy called Frank who desperately desires the SUV that is being given away as part of a ridiculous competition in a mall, to a mother of a comatosed son whose desperate need for him to live has blinded her to the toll his miserable existence has taken on her family, these are seemingly ‘normal’ people, who have become reliant on external totems to keep themselves functioning.

The 2001 film based on these stories, isn’t so much an adaptation as a skewered reimagining. Rose Troche, the director of cult lesbian romance Go Fish, takes Robert Altman’s lead and condenses some of the main thematic concerns and characters from Homes’ short stories forming a single, unified narrative arc, of overlapping family concerns. Directly importing some of the characters from Homes’ stories and embellishing on them a little, Troche establishes an insular suburban enclave, a bland island within a bland ocean, occupied by four families (the Golds, the Jenningses, the Trains and the Christianson’s). In an impressive intro sequence Troche presents us with a series of blank white dolls houses, from out of which parade an equally blank and white assortment of dolls. These are representations of each of the families that feature heavily within the story, as well as the gardener and friend of these families, Randy. Three out of the four families are directly connected by an event that has taken place in the past, with tragic consequences for the future. Only the Trains, new arrivals to the neighbourhood, are unaware of what ties the other families together.

Fans of Homes’ stories will recognise elements of plot from each of them, but Troche has done her very best to integrate them so that they adhere to a steady narrative arc, even when, as in the case of the car contest, they appear at their most episodic. Unlike with Altman’s Short Cuts, which had the whole of Los Angeles to play out its interconnected narrative elisions and expansions, The Safety of Objects has far less space to shoehorn all of its disparate stories into. As a result large parts of the film feel overly abstracted, or incredibly forced, mining either Homes’ surrealistic narrative fantasy, or her impressive eye for details that cut to the existential core of a character, but never both of them harmoniously together.

In a bravura twenty-minute opening section Troche cuts between the various different units of the families at a truly dizzying pace, which has the effect of highlighting strongly poetic juxtapositions, such as the exhaling of an orgasm with the inhaling of cigarette smoke, or the reluctant exercise undertaken by one young boy and the inability to move experienced by a comatosed teenager. So much character information rushes past the camera in these opening moments, that it can seem to swamp the viewer down in a chaotic and incomprehensible normality, which is almost certainly what Troche intends. A side effect of this beautifully constructed cinematographic flurry is that the viewer begins to feel their way into the story far more intuitively as the relationships between people become clearer and more apparent. The one family that is awkward in this regard is Dermot Mulroney’s Train family, particularly as Jim’s (Mulroney) wife Susan (Moira Kelly) seems to be a little underdeveloped, as does their daughter Emily (Carly Chalom). By comparison, Jim and Jake (Alex House) are three-dimensional, if highly unusual human specimens. Yet Jake’s piggy-backing on the doll story, although interestingly rendered by the use of an imaginary voiceover and some close puppet work, is nowhere near as satisfying as the genuinely unsettling events of ‘A Real Doll’ – which seem to take their cue from a Roxy Music song. Whilst Jim’s full-blown crisis of confidence manifests itself in the utterly inscrutable coaching of Glenn Close’s Esther Gold, as she tries to win the SUV competition (once again seeking solace in the potential ownership of objects).

These problems of characterisation extend to issues of dialogue, where much of the elegance and élan of Homes’ tightly constructed prose is lost in Troche’s haste to sermonise and explicate her ideas about consumerism and what it means to suburban America. At other points the plot fails to cohere, so that certain characters seemed to be merely gesturing at ideas and motifs (such as Howard Gold’s inability to spend time in the presence of his son, or Bobby Christianson’s bizarre role in the shooting of Jim at the mall). Things often appear messy in the movie, not because the character’s lives are particularly messy, but because the extraneous elements of plot and character haven’t been suitably assimilated and processed. An example of this involves the Gold’s daughter Julie (well-played by Jessica Campbell in an awkward role), who is clearly seen imagining being embraced by her comatosed brother, whilst masturbating on a sun lounger. This is a profound and powerful sequence and yet Julie’s complex relationship with her mother and brother, as illustrated in the fight over possession of the beloved guitar, is never allowed to fully blossom, as perhaps it should.

Although impressively filmed and featuring an excellent cast The Safety of Objects is yet another entry into the increasingly unsatisfying sub-genre of American drama that fixates upon the hidden eccentricities of suburbia, usually as a means to a narrative end. This genre has roots in movies like Mike Nicholl’s The Graduate and Frank Perry’s Burt Lancaster-vehicle The Swimmer. Perhaps the most effective recent entry was Ang Lee’s adaptation of Rick Moody’s superb novel (many of these films have literary sources) The Ice Storm. Whereas that movie managed to play out the incestuous relations between a tight-knit, but cold, group of middle-class American families with a degree of authenticity and poignancy, The Safety of Objects feels much more like the failed attempts at mundane lyricism evidenced in last years 3 Backyards, or the Oscar-friendly Little Children. As a result performances as subtle and restrained as Glenn Close’s get lost in the aimless confusion of the film’s middle section.

A final brief mention must be made for one of the more eccentric choices that Troche makes. In one of Homes’ stories called ‘Looking for Johnny’, a character kidnaps a young 9 year-old boy to stand in for his lost kid brother. This plot is squeezed into the role of Randy (played by Timothy Olyphant) and the kidnapping becomes that of Sam Jennings (a debut performance from a tomboyish Kristen Stewart). Despite the film’s many failures to meaningfully explore some of the dark and sensuous sexuality of Homes’ prose, it manages to do something particularly odd with this plot strand, which as a result of the ambiguous sexual identity of Sam, creates a weird dynamic that doesn’t really exist in the original story, but comes closest to approximating the feel of Homes’ writing. Unfortunately, as with the film as a whole, this interlude quickly comes up against problems of plausibility and, more importantly, a sense of fidelity to what has been revealed of these characters, thus far. Overly ambitious, attempting to both capture the vitality of a very good work of fiction and add layers of emotional depth and insight, Troche’s film sporadically achieves its lofty aims, only for them to somehow break free and prove as elusive as the peace of mind these entrapped characters seek.

Film Review:- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

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Dir:- Chris Columbus

Starr:- Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman

 

I frequently find myself out of step with the times, whether that is an admirable badge of individualism, or merely an indication of how far my head has become rammed up my rectum, I cannot fairly judge. The whole Harry Potter craze initially landed sometime around the beginning of my University days. I can remember odd sojourns to the capital and being somewhat perplexed by the number of grown adults who had exchanged their copies of The Evening Standard for a chunky, garishly coloured kids book, whilst shuttling back from the office on the intensely claustrophobic rush hour Tube commute. At that moment the stubborn, recalcitrant, post-teen independent streak in me absolutely refused to consider the idea of devouring even one paragraph of JK Rowling’s massively popular fantasy tomes. What did I, a fully grown, red-blooded man need with a boy wizard and a boarding school for spell-casters? For the best part of a decade since then I have avoided all contact with the famous bespectacled prepubescent conjurer. However with the saga now at an end I find myself at least a little curious to see what all the hype really was about. Not wishing to wade into upwards of 7,000 pages of kids fiction, I’ve already got my eyes full with George R.R. Martin’s epic adult fantasies thank you very much, I’ve set myself the target of delving into the cinematic offerings one-by-one over the next week, with the express aim of going to see Mr. Potter’s final instalment at a cinema near me soon. Thus, I begin at the beginning with the interchangeably titled Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone.

 

Being more than at a remove from my own childhood, dim memories frozen off before one might make contact with the more painful root, I prepared myself for this viewing by remembering the children’s fiction that I found most memorable and inspiring. One of the defining features of almost all my childhood favourites, even Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood saga, were there relatively complex engagement with the dark and disturbing idea of death and mortality. Of my most cherished childhood books not one veered away from a challenging detailing of the rather messy ends of life. The Snow Spider was all about the familial grief at the loss of a beloved child, The Box of Delights was riven by the notion that winter brought with it both magic and ultimately menace (a motif that Martin borrows in his Westeros saga), Wilde’s The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant demonstrably introduce a young mind to the otherwise fearful notion that all good things come to an end, The Fox Cub Bold has a simply heartbreaking death at the very heart of the story, then there are the works of Roald Dahl that plough the deathly in a much more macabre and altogether more mischievous manner (was anything more morbid than George’s Marvellous Medicine?). Even amongst the fantasy sagas that I adored as a child (Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Robert C. O’Brien’s Nimh book, Ursula Moray Williams Gobbolino stories and, of course, Tolkien’s The Hobbit) there was very much the all-pervasive spectre of death lingering over the next horizon for each of our heroes. Death scared me, perplexed me and utterly engaged me in the various quests and travails, battles and perils. As a kid my abiding memory of reading was the close proximity in which happiness, hope and horror found themselves in the best children’s fiction. Once you’ve mastered the rudiments of reading, gone past the Meg and Mog’s of this world, then you actively seek out the engagement of a twisted tale or two, or at least I did. Having mentally reconstructed my childhood mindset, without being wholly able to extinguish the critical faculties that run amok in adulthood, I was all prepared for a deeply unsettling and upsetting tale of derring-do, ladled with the treacly succour of a warm and wholesome moral education.

 

What first struck me about The Philosopher’s Stone was it’s almost anaemic way with horror and struggle. Think back to Narnia, or Prydain, or even Bilbo Baggins, did any of these characters ever have such long, almost summery, moments of safety and ease? Aside from the wonderful first twenty minutes, in which Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw enjoy themselves as the horrid ‘muggles’ relatives of young Harry, the movie seemed to canter along a wide, expansive and utterly riskless bridleway. Much like Tolkien’s pre-history to the Rings, Harry finds himself, once ensconced in Hogwarts boarding school, facing a series of challenges to his bravery and courage, but throughout each of these moderately scary, or thrilling episodes, there is never any real doubt that our Harry is going to come out victorious (something only reinforced by the cruelly malicious ending which brings Harry’s house the inevitable victory. Throughout the film every little detail is ridiculously signposted as to whether it will be for, or against, Harry. The only elements of true intrigue and visceral fear are those involving the odious and ambiguous Snape (Alan Rickman mainlining his very best Uriah Heap, with an added dose of magisterial haughtiness and self-importance) and Potter’s nemesis Lord Voldemort (whom here attaches himself to the character played by Ian Hart, when will he ever get another lead role deserving of his talents?). Other obstacles in Harry’s path, such as games of Quidditch, dopey trolls and three-headed dogs, really don’t cut the mustard in the out-and-out scare stakes.

 

What is perhaps moderately unusual about Harry Potter is his unimpeded ascendancy, unlike Bilbo Baggins, who has to overcome his attachment to The Shire (not to mention his inbuilt fears and neuroses), Harry has no such problems. In fact, for a child who has lost his parents, been raised by an obnoxious relative and suddenly discovered that he has been lied to for much of his life, our young hero seems remarkably unfazed, in an almost Dandy comic character manner. Aside from a brief moment of callow brooding in front of a mirror of fulfilment, Harry’s orphan status seems to have done him absolutely no harm whatsoever. In fact on arrival at Hogwarts (and even before that whilst shopping for Wizard accessories, oh yes, a Nimbus 2000) Harry receives the kind of adulation and enmity normally reserved for the wildly famous. All the students of Hogwarts, with the exception of another nemesis in the making Draco Malfoy, seem to be entirely on Harry’s side, with nothing better to do than wait around to celebrate the wee wizards latest success. This adulation is further fostered by the paternal and maternal coaching of Hogwarts heads Dumbledore and McGonagall (expertly played by the late Richard Harris and the exquisite Maggie Smith, who appears to be revisiting her Prime of Miss Jean Brodie glory days) who waste few opportunities to commend Harry for his latest good deed and ensure maximum attention is paid to the young pup, by the rest of the pupils. In essence what you are left with in terms of character struggle and conflict in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is nothing more than a parade of successes, culminating in Harry’s goodness of spirit denying Voldemort the immortality of the aforementioned gem. This seems like a curiously modern take on childhood wish fulfilment, the idea that one can achieve fame without really having done anything, as of yet, to have warranted it. It also seems to suggest the boarding-school experience of Hogwarts is a peculiarly narcissistic place of education, engaged in ensuring that the many cater to the needs of the chosen one.

 

Among the things that Home Alone helmer Columbus does get absolutely right is the casting. The impeccable turns by seasoned British stage and screen talent, such as John Hurt, Zoe Wannamaker and John Cleese, add a thick veneer of class to the production and must have gone some of the way to wheedling out some wonderful performances from the first-time child stars. In particular Emma Watson’s emergence as Hermione Granger, with her clipped ‘Home Counties’ consonants and precocious way with a put-down, was a bona fide strength in the movie, whilst Daniel Radcliffe done well in donning the spectacles of the most talked about pre-teen in recent history. Where Rupert Grint’s general mugging was a bit distracting at times, it still wasn’t off-the-radar irritating and Tom Fenton’s composed smarm and conceitedness as Draco Malfoy seemed spot-on. Despite the 150 minute running time there is a strong feeling that a lot is being lost in the condensing processes of screen adaptation, with the book surely having to paint a bit clearer a picture of the house relationships amongst the various peripheral pupils, such as the Twins or Neville Longbottom. The movie feels at times like a whistle-stop introduction to the main players in a longer, more intricate saga. The episodic structure thus serves to highlight certain basic facets of the Potter universe and makes this initial offering a little awkward. Columbus was clearly also working with fledgling CGI and does as good a job as could have been expected in creating the odd hybrid form of late Victorian-era England, pastoral fantasia and knowingly modern suburbia, that is the world in which Harry Potter inhabits. Compared to the grittier look of the later Pullman adaptation of The Golden Compass, Potter has a bit of a zany comic book feel to it, with an overabundance of primary colours, particularly on the Quidditch field. Overall I found the whole Potter experience not half as arduous as I thought it may be, but the myriad shortcomings of this first instalment will need to be remedied to maintain my interest over the long haul.